Black Rebel Motorcycle Club | Specter at the Feast | Rating: 9.3/11 |
Recordings made in the shadow of trauma or loss can be one of three things: an overwhelming ode to the loss, a cathartic release from that loss or the sounds of picking up the pieces after said loss. For Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s seventh album, Specter at the Feast, the band had to go through the unexpected and shocking death of Robert Been’s father, Michael. We won’t spend time with repetition inside the echo chamber; just suffice to say that, for better or for worse, loss and pain still stand as superior sources for an artist’s inspiration. If ever you doubt this, simply trek through U2’s catalogue for verification.
A Macbethian reference to a haunt that lingers serving as the album’s title is indicative of what we’re dealing with – what the nucleus of the band has dealt with – and while the overall body of Specter at the Feast is tempered compared to some brasher offerings of their past, you cannot discount the lush layers of the end result. Particularly on the album’s first track, “Fire Walker,” one of the album’s gloriously sludgier tracks (the other being the filthy sweat and aural chaos of “Sell It” ). With its delayed and stuttering entry, the sonic mire which the ears are lured into and dragged through is as laborious and methodical as Been’s vocal delivery on lines like, “The crime is never what you steal, but what you leave behind,” with all the characteristics of a danse macabre yet when Been and Hayes trade off over one another, a corner of the mourning veil is lifted.
Whether by design or simply how the cards fell, Hayes takes the lead on the album’s outright rockers/homage to the grime still beneath the nails of their collective hard working hands. Hayes spits virtual venom on “Teenage Disease” which could be kin to any track on Take Them On, On Your Own but take note of “Rival” where the first 28 seconds may be the closest to a “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (by Nirvana) moment that Shapiro and her gang may ever achieve. It’s all fire and chains loosed with six-barrel shotguns bared and blazing: a band at their high-octane grungiest exposing the fire in their bellies in case you forgot that it was ever there.
And that seems to be something of the case: where as dense and dynamic as their previous album, Beat The Devil’s Tattoo was, the more moderated cuts (aka ‘sludgier’ like “War Machine,” “Aya,” etc.) gave listeners (who tend to see BRMC only as shadowy priests of psychedelic garage rock) grief and those are some of the same ears that could barely make ethical sense of Howl. Yet BRMC have never not (dig the double negative) catered to piercing a deeper, darker vein. Deeper as with the dichotomy in the substance and placement of the two Hayes-led hymns “Some Kind of Ghost” and straight up, organ-enriched gospel of “Sometimes the Light” tracked almost dead center. Such an abrupt pause on the aggression in order to genuflect, soul search and spirit-chase is the odd curve ball that they’ve been throwing for years. At this point, either you catch it or you don’t.
The honor of covering the Call’s “Let the Day Begin” is the most upbeat thing that Been tackles and, not surprisingly, where he truly sounds the least burdened on the album. Elsewhere he’s pouring gracefully somber efforts into a meditative “Lullaby” (where the guitar is a painful yet pristine beauty) and choice closer, grasping and dream sequence-like “Lose Yourself” – a method of self-preservation that he may or may not have subscribed to at some point during the past three years. As with most of BRMC’s albums, what we have are two sides of a complicated coin. In the case of Specter at the Feast, it’s the mourning and the acceptance that the fight of your life is still ongoing despite what you’ve lost. The next sound that you hear will be the sound of a band picking up the pieces.
NOTE: Ditch the earbuds and apply Specter at the Feast generously with headphones, particularly on “Fire Walker,” “Lose Yourself” and “Sell It.” Your ears will thank you.